Argentina have exposed Australia’s scrum as a weakness once more in a performance which will leave Wallabies coach Michael Cheika feverishly checking the medical reports on injured loosehead prop Scott Sio.
Sio missed the tense semi-final victory over Argentina with an elbow injury, and is no certainty to return in time for next Saturday’s (Sunday AEDT) final against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
Star backs Israel Folau (ankle) and Matt Giteau (groin) are also injury concerns for Cheika, but only Sio will be able to help fix the Wallabies’ scrum.
After making enormous progression under scrum guru Mario Ledesma, Australia regressed to their bad old selves – ironically against the nation Ledesma represented 84 times at Test level.
As Cheika has said all tournament – as good as the scrum may be one day, it doesn’t take much to knock you back down.
And after being humbled by a powerful Argentinian pack, the memories of Australia’s triumphs over England and Wales were long faded.
Sio was central to Australia’s scrum dominance from the group stages but missed the semi-final win over the Pumas after suffering an elbow injury against Scotland last weekend.
His replacement was the experienced James Slipper, who became Australia’s most-capped prop on Sunday.
But it was a tough day out for Slipper, who held the No.1 jersey for two years until Sio’s rise to prominence as the preferred loosehead just before the World Cup.
Slipper conceded three penalties for scrum infringements before being replaced midway through the second half.
“He’s been very, very good,” said Cheika, who praised Slipper’s leadership.
“He’s been in a very big battle with Scott Sio for his position in the side.
“He had an opportunity to start tonight and I thought he worked really hard for a guy that hasn’t started many games and the fact he’s achieved that milestone.
“It’s neither really here nor there at the moment but to achieve the milestone at such a young age for a front rower, it’s very good for us going forward.
“Because you’re going to have all that experience and he’s going to have lot of improvement in him as well.
“He’s got a heap of improvement in him so we’re looking forward to continuing working with him going forward.”